×

Cannes Film Review: ‘Hippocrates’

Thomas Lilti draws on his own medical experience in this low-key comedy-drama.

With:

Vincent Lacoste, Reda Kateb, Jacques Gamblin, Marianne Denicourt, Felix Moati, Carole Franck, Philippe Rebbot, Julie Brochen, Jeanne Cellard, Thierry Levaret.

Filmmakers with significant life experience outside the creative arts are becoming ever rarer creatures, but France’s Thomas Lilti exploits his original career to the fullest in his fitfully engaging comedy-drama “Hippocrates.” A trained doctor who still occasionally practices as a primary-care physician alongside his work as a writer and director, Lilti has fully applied the “write what you know” ethos to his sophomore feature, which follows a junior doctor’s eventful initiation into his profession. Of presumably strong appeal to health workers and their families, the pic should prove significantly less contagious among the general population, especially outside Francophone territories.

For his first stint as an intern doctor at a Paris hospital, young Benjamin (tousle-haired, boyish-looking Vincent Lacoste) has the advantage  if it may be so termed  of his father (Jacques Gamblin) already working there in a senior role. But with resources dwindling, Benjamin quickly makes a serious error when he fails to administer an electrocardiogram to a patient with abdominal pains, who dies in the night. No matter that the man, a regular patient nicknamed “Tsunami” (Thierry Levaret), was a chronically drunk, homeless man with severe cirrhosis and very limited life expectancy, or that the ECG machine was known to be broken. Authorities quickly close ranks to protect Benjamin and cover up his lapse, deflecting inquiries from Tsunami’s former wife (Julie Brochen), who has suddenly made herself known to them.

Since Benjamin is evidently modeled on the director, drawing on his own intern experiences and his life in the shadow of his doctor father, Lilti (“Les Yeux bandes,” 2007) can be forgiven for being tough on his protagonist, shying away from an overly sympathetic portrait. But audiences may struggle to develop a strong rooting interest in the petulant youngster, who seems all too happy to tell the lies necessary to avoid liability. And with the casting of Lacoste (2009 teen comedy “The French Kissers”) in bratty mode, audience empathy will be significantly dialed down.

Lilti makes a concession to the audience by providing a strongly likable character in the form of Abdel (Reda Kateb, also seen in Cannes this year as the taxi driver in Ryan Gosling’s “Lost River”), a capable doctor with years of experience who is given the lowly post of intern due to his foreign (Algerian) nationality. Abdel quickly emerges as the moral conscience of the film, especially when his emphasis on patient comfort sends him on a collision course with the authorities, to his great personal peril.

While the story arc of “Hippocrates” is not especially remarkable, the film works best in its depiction of life in the bowels of the hospital, which the public never visits. The unbelievably grim sleeping quarters for on-call doctors, which unlucky Abdel has as his permanent Paris home, are tatty, graffiti-plastered cells. The doctors’ refectory and shabby common rooms continue this theme of improvised wall decor, combining gallows humor with a bizarre adolescent fixation on oversized male genitalia. The contrast with the sanitized wards is jarring, adding welcome texture.

The caregivers’ obsession with the American TV show “House” provides another amusing angle, at the risk of reminding audiences that there is no shortage of medical drama available on their TV sets for free. Lilti compellingly conveys his point that in reality, the profession is full of exhausted, resource-strapped individuals required to make decisions with no easy right answers, undermined by bosses more concerned about the bottom line than about patient welfare. Spun off into a TV series, it would make a fresh alternative to the networks’ recent hospital-set efforts, albeit falling far short of their ratings.

Popular on Variety

Cannes Film Review: 'Hippocrates'

Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (Critics' Week), May 19, 2014. Running time: 101 MIN. (Original title: "Hippocrate")

Production:

(France) A 31 Juin Films presentation in co-production with France 2 Cinema, with the participation of France Televisions, Canal Plus, Cine Plus. (International sales: Le Pacte, Paris.) Produced by Agnes Vallee, Emmanuel Barraux.

Crew:

Directed by Thomas Lilti. Screenplay, Lilti, Baya Kasmi, Julien Lilti, Pierre Chosson. Camera (color, widescreen), Nicolas Gaurin; editor, Christel Dewynter; music, Alexandre Lier, Sylvain Ohrel, Nicolas Weil; production designer, Philippe Van Herwijnen; costume designer, Cyril Fontaine; sound, Francois Guillaume, Raphael Sohier, Jean-Paul Hurier (Dolby Digital); assistant director, Amandine Escoffier; casting, Julie Navarro.

With:

Vincent Lacoste, Reda Kateb, Jacques Gamblin, Marianne Denicourt, Felix Moati, Carole Franck, Philippe Rebbot, Julie Brochen, Jeanne Cellard, Thierry Levaret.

More Film

  • 'QT8: Quentin Tarantino, The First Eight'

    Film Review: 'QT8: Quentin Tarantino, The First Eight'

    In one of the intermittent revealing moments in “QT8: Quentin Tarantino, The First Eight,” a documentary about the films of Quentin Tarantino that’s like a familiar but tasty sundae for Quentin fans, we see Tarantino on the set of “Pulp Fiction,” shooting the iconic dance contest at Jack Rabbit Slim’s. As John Travolta and Uma [...]

  • Zombieland Double Tap

    Why Emma Stone Was Haunted by Fear of Vomiting While Shooting 'Zombieland: Double Tap'

    SPOILER ALERT: The following story contains a slight spoiler for “Zombieland: Double Tap.” The zombie slayers are back! Ten years after Emma Stone, Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg and Abigail Breslin first killed dead people walking in “Zombieland,” they’ve reunited for “Zombieland: Double Tap.” “You take stock of your life a little bit,” Stone says of [...]

  • Hereditary

    The Best Horror Films to Stream Right Now

    Good horror movies aren’t always easy to scare up, but with Halloween on the horizon, Variety has compiled a list of some of the best horror films available on Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu. NETFLIX Apostle Cult horror meets religious hypocrisy in this creepy gothic thriller, which follows prodigal son Thomas Richardson, who returns home [...]

  • Brett Gelman

    'Stranger Things' Star Brett Gelman Joins Michael B. Jordan in 'Without Remorse'

    Brett Gelman, best known for his scene-stealing roles in “Fleabag,” “Stranger Things” and “Love,” has joined Michael B. Jordan in Paramount’s adaptation of Tom Clancy’s “Without Remorse.” Jamie Bell and Jodie Turner-Smith are also on board. Jordan is starring as operations officer John Clark, also known as John Terrence Kelly, a former Navy SEAL who [...]

  • US director Francis Ford Coppola holds

    Francis Ford Coppola Honored With Prestigious Lumiere Prize by Thierry Fremaux, Bong Joon Ho

    Francis Ford Coppola took the stage to claim the Lumière Festival’s lifetime achievement honor, the Lumière Prize, in a stirring celebration that marked the festival’s 10th edition on Friday night in Lyon, France. The four-time Academy Award winner accepted the prize after a series of video tributes, musical performances and testimonials from family, friends and [...]

  • 'Human Capital' Sells to Vertical Entertainment,

    Liev Schreiber, Maya Hawke's 'Human Capital' Sells Rights to DirecTV, Vertical Entertainment (EXCLUSIVE)

    Vertical Entertainment and DirecTV have jointly acquired the North American distribution rights to “Human Capital,” an official selection of this year’s Toronto International Film Festival from director Marc Meyers. The film stars Oscar winner Marisa Tomei, Liev Schreiber, Peter Sarsgaard, and Maya Hawke. The ensemble drama follows numerous interconnected stories surrounding a hit and run, [...]

  • Robert Zemeckis

    Robert Zemeckis in Talks to Direct Live-Action 'Pinocchio' for Disney (EXCLUSIVE)

    Robert Zemeckis is in early talks to direct Disney’s live-action “Pinocchio.” Andrew Miano and Chris Weitz will produce through their company Depth of Field with Weitz penning the script. “Paddington” director Paul King had originally been tapped to direct but had to leave the project for unknown reasons at the beginning of the year. David [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content